Knee Pain Causes & Conditions
Knee pain is common, especially as we age or put on weight. Since the knees bear the body’s weight during any activity that uses the legs, including standing, walking and running, these parts of our body are prone to chronic pain. The higher the body weight, the more pressure is put on the knees. Similarly, knee pain tends to increase over time if activity is not reduced and other measures for healing are not implemented. Common knee pain causes and conditions include inflammation, injury, repetitive stress and mechanical problems.
Arthritic Conditions of the Knee
Arthritis of the knee breaks down the cartilage in the knee joints, causing pain, stiffness, swelling and weakness. Also known as degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common type, and is most prevalent among older people, as well as in women, people who work on their feet and people who are overweight.
Rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic arthritis also both cause stiffness, swelling and pain in the knees. With rheumatoid arthritis, the knee joint becomes inflamed, while post-traumatic arthritis results from cartilage damage caused by a serious trauma or injury to the knee.
Gout is another arthritic condition that most commonly affects the big toe, but it can also affect the knee. This condition causes uric acid crystals to accumulate in the knee joint, causing pain. Gout attacks tend to come on suddenly, often at night, and can come and go over a period of months or even years.
Injuries and Repetitive Stress
Staying physically active is important to overall health, and weight-bearing exercises like walking or running play a significant role in keeping the bones strong. But when knee pain develops from an injury or stress from repetitive motion, rest is essential to recovery. Muscle strains are one common type of knee injury that causes pain in the knee, along with several more serious types of injury to the bones, cartilage or ligaments of the knee.
Falls, bike accidents and automobile collisions can cause fractures to the knee bones, while tears and strains to the knee’s cartilage or ligaments are common sports injuries. This is especially true in sports like soccer, football and basketball that involve quick movement and sudden shifts in direction. The ligaments of the knee connect the thigh bone to the bones of the lower leg, keeping the knee stable. Cartilage is the tough yet flexible tissue that cushions the ends of the bones within the knee. When these tissues are damaged, the resulting pain and loss of motion can be quite serious.
Bursitis and Tendinitis
Tendinitis and bursitis are two other conditions that cause knee pain, both of which can be attributed to sports or repetitive stress injuries. The bursae are small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the knee joint and reduce friction as ligaments and tendons move over the joint. When the bursae become inflamed after a knee injury, bursitis pain results. Tendons attach muscles to bones throughout the body; when the tendons in the knee become irritated and inflamed, tendinitis causes pain that is often quite severe.
Knee pain can also be caused by mechanical problems of the knee, leg or foot. Distance runners, for example, are especially prone to iliotibial (IT) band syndrome. Running along the outside of the hip to the outside of the knee, the IT band can tighten from repetitive motion or overuse. When this occurs, the tendon rubs against the femur, causing significant pain.
Dislocated kneecaps occur when the patella—the bone covering the front of the knee—slips out of place, causing significant pain and discomfort. Even pain that does not originate in the knee, such as hip or foot pain, can cause someone to “favor” those joints by changing the way they walk. The resulting added stress on the knee joint causes pain.
Seeking Relief from Knee Pain
Knee pain is always an indication that something related to the knee has gone wrong. Whether the problem is an acute or chronic condition, or something less serious, a medical professional can assess the problem to determine the correct diagnosis and treatment. Whatever the cause of the knee pain, if activity is not reduced, the pain can worsen over time. Bone spurs can develop with certain conditions, causing further pain in the joints, along with stiffness and swelling. The knee might lock in place, making it difficult to bend the knee or walk.
The compassionate professionals at Balcones Pain Consultants can help you find the source of your knee pain and recommend a course of action to reduce the limitations you may experience as a result of this condition.